Ever since the dawn of MTV and Friday Night Videos, the music video has significantly impacted musical tastes and pop culture. It might not be as extreme as when the Buggles declared that "Video Killed the Radio Star", but there is no arguing that the music video certainly could make or break a song's popularity. So this regular Flashback Video feature will serve to remember some of the music videos from the great '80s decade that made an impact on me in one way or another.
This issue we will cover "Sweet Child o' Mine" by Guns N' Roses. In March 1985, Axl Rose and his former band mate Tracii Guns formed Guns N’ Roses by merging their respective bands Hollywood Rose and L.A. Guns. By June of that year, after several line-up changes, the band consisted of Rose on lead vocals, lead guitarist Slash, rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Steven Adler. The band signed with Geffen Records in March of 1986 and would release their debut album, Appetite for Destruction, in July of 1987. The album, which is included on many best of lists, has sold over 30 million copies worldwide with 18 million of those coming in the U.S. making it the best-selling debut album of all-time in the United States. This was driven in particular by three hit singles including “Welcome to the Jungle”, “Paradise City” and “Sweet Child o’ Mine“.
The story behind “Sweet Child o’ Mine” is that it surprisingly came together quickly during a jam session. Rose heard Slash warming up (and only goofing around) with that recognizable riff and he began writing lyrics which he based on his then-girlfriend Erin Everly. With Adler’s added drum part, Stradlin’s chords and McKagan’s bassline the harmony became the core of the song. They decided they needed a final dramatic breakdown, but weren’t sure what to do. Axl started saying to himself, “Where do we go? Where do we go now?” Producer Mike Clink suggested that he just sing that and it put the final touches on what turned out to be an amazing song. It was released as a single in August of 1988 and hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 less than a month later on September 10th. Slash's guitar solo is pretty amazing, but it was actually cut short when they edited the song down from 5:56 to 4:13 to make it more marketable to MTV and radio stations. The music video for "Sweet Child o' Mine" was directed by Nigel Dick who was one of the most prolific in that arena starting back in the mid-80s and then into the '90s and really still today. He had previously done videos for Tears for Fears including "Shout", "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" and "Head Over Heals", the Band Aid charity single "Do They Know It's Christmas", Howard Jones "Things Can Only Get Better" and countless others before working with Guns N' Roses. He had done the "Welcome to the Jungle" and "Paradise City" videos prior to working on this one as well. The "Sweet Child o' Mine" video is shot in black and white and is basically just showing the band rehearsing surrounded by crew members. Some parts use time-lapse and others look like grainy home video. It was shot at Mendiola's Ballroom in Huntington Park (Los Angeles). All of the band members' girlfriends at the time were included in the video, including Everly who Rose reportedly wrote the lyrics about, and even Izzy Stradlin's dog makes an appearance. As of today, the music video has over 1.2 billion views on YouTube (yes, billion)! It is one of the all-time great songs, but the video really isn't anything overly unique or groundbreaking. Just watching the guys rehearsing, but shot in an artistic way. Now you can add to that 1.2 billion views and watch music video for “Sweet Child o’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses…
Though they would have many other hits, “Sweet Child o’ Mine” would be the band’s first and only #1 single. Sadly, by the late '90s, tensions within the band grew to the point that all of the original members had left and Axl Rose basically became a recluse. In January 2001, he resurfaced with a new line-up of Guns N’ Roses which was largely panned by critics and Rose would withdraw from public view for a second time. In November 2008, fifteen years after their last album, Guns N’ Roses released Chinese Democracy (with Rose as the only original member participating) which ultimately undersold expectations. Slash and McKagan rejoined the band in 2016 for the Not in This Lifetime... Tour, which became the third-highest-grossing concert tour on record, grossing over $584 million by its conclusion in 2019. In September 2020, the band's Greatest Hits album was re-released and there is talk of another tour and maybe even some new music. So we may not have heard the last of GNR, but either way, we will always have the Appetite for Destruction classics.
Hope you enjoyed another trip back to the '80s thanks to Flashback Video!